Everything has changed since 9-11
Everything this year has been affected by September 11, especially so at Sandia. This year’s Lab News State of the Labs interview with Sandia President and Labs Director C. Paul Robinson and Executive VP and Deputy Director Joan Woodard reflected Sandia’s previous preparations and new efforts in helping counter terrorism. But there was much else as well. In what follows they discuss the advantage of Sandia’s systems view, some new Grand Challenge technology areas, their concerns about employees keeping their personal lives in balance with the increased workloads, hiring and teaming, the Labs’ generally bright budget situation, the new MESA complex and other facilities, the pension plan changes, the governance initiative, making sure Sandia continues to be a great place to work, the collapse of the Wen Ho Lee case, the rejuvenation of the weapons program, the M&O contract, and the Integrated Enabling Services initiative. They were interviewed on Feb. 8 by Lab News staffers Ken Frazier, Bill Murphy, and Chris Burroughs.
Lab News:It has been an extremely hectic time since Sept. 11. What has been the best part of it, and what is the worst?
Paul: The vision that we all talked about of becoming the lab the nation turns to first was fulfilled pretty quickly, at least with respect to the war on terrorism and homeland defense. The people who have been Sandia’s traditional customers over a great number of years have all called with urgent pleas for help, for ideas. The funding has followed. It seems that as the funding has grown in these areas, funding has grown in other areas. There is a synergism. Success does breed more success. The budget as of today can be rounded off to $1.7 billion, which is staggering to me.
LN: To the extent that out of tragedy can come anything you might characterize as gratifying, do you see it as somewhat vindicating? We [Sandia] were talking about homeland defense-type issues and infrastructure surety issues before this rose to public consciousness. This may speak to some pretty profound insight on the part of our management?
Joan: In the last weeks or months as I have talked about and tried to summarize for folks inside and outside the Labs what has transpired since Sept. 11 — the hundred-plus calls we have gotten or the specifics in terms of individual programs and technologies — I make a plug for our strategic planning. Often we think of that as just some document or some process where people go off for a little while and talk about things and imagine the future. We did that in ’95-’96. We identified the business unit areas, the strategic objectives.
Every one of them is contributing in a major way, whether it is nuclear weapons SBU [strategic business unit] and analysis of vulnerabilities and protection of the nuclear weapons complex facilities, nonproliferation and all the work associated with securing nuclear materials worldwide, or our work in support of the intelligence community. Critical infrastructure was identified in ’96, and now our investment in understanding and technology gives the country a jump on solutions. The Emerging Threats SBU has been working on technology for what warfare might be like in the future, and in fact it is playing out before our eyes on CNN. It is not like we have all the answers, but I think it’s because of the planning that we have some things that have been of value. Further, I think the reason why we are, in many cases, the lab the nation turns to first — it sounds arrogant, but I think it comes from the strength of our engineering base. We bring the answer in the form of a technology that has been designed with the users in mind from the beginning. So the field acceptance of it has been very quick.
Take the anthrax cleanup. We knew that we weren’t going to be the ones who would clean up the battlefield or the Senate Hart office building; we transferred the technology to commercial vendors so that they could produce the volumes, the gallons of solutions, required. The best competitor couldn’t come up with a fraction of the gallons needed.
There is some sense of real excitement in the Lab, even though I think people are really very stressed. Paul and I and the Mission Council have talked about this — folks are so stressed we worry that we are at an unsustainable level. We’re trying to see what we can do to understand the problem and then take some actions. But in general folks’ reaction is, “Yes, I am working hard but I am excited about being able to do something for the nation’s biggest problems.”
Paul: I’m proud of two things, and I think they are important lessons for us to draw about ourselves from what has taken place over the past five months. The strategic planning was important, and we took it seriously because we proceeded from the strategic planning to invest our LDRD moneys in the very things that were readied to be delivered: items to the Afghanistan theater; the foam for cleaning up the office buildings, the mail trucks, the mail elevators; the sensors that we have deployed; and the robotics that we developed. Those were all created by LDRD [the Laboratory Directed Research & Development program], getting Sandians’ ideas to respond to the directions we set in strategic planning.
The other one — and I believe this has been important already and it is going to be even more important moving forward — is the term we call “the system view.” Yes, we build a lot of piece parts, individual technologies, sensors, computers, but most important, we put them together in a system view. This is what we mean by “science with the mission in mind.” Our vision of what an integrated system should look like has been adopted by our sponsors. Certainly I won’t be the first one to point out that in the homeland defense area the US spread the responsibilities over a great number of agencies. This approach didn’t provide leadership over the previous four years, and so we at Sandia were doing that quiet work behind the scenes. We were asking how might all of this fit together and what we should do. When we put these individual technologies forward there was a roadmap for where you could go with it.
When NNSA has set up task forces they have invariably called on Sandians who have the engineering view, that “systems view,” to come in and help organize things and get the work moving. We have been helpful to NNSA as well as to Gov. [Tom] Ridge [head of homeland security] and his office by what we have done. And recently we were also asked to take the lead for the organization of energy infrastructure security, protecting all of the nation’s energy assets against possible attack and disruption.
LN: So we were obviously as well prepared as we could be. But have there been any surprises or serious problems that we couldn’t have anticipated, that you can talk about?
Paul: The problem is far from solved, so we are early in the war on terrorism. One technology that has roots that go back even farther was a heavily classified program that has moved more and more to where we can talk publicly about some of our work. That is synthetic aperture radar, the SAR technology, the day/night, all-weather imagery that we can achieve. I believe that if there is a most significant contribution, that everybody in the defense department points to, it’s that. Our SAR technology has changed a lot of things. First, in planning, where many people don’t want to undertake a mission plan unless they can get the Sandia-quality imagery; second, in systems that inherently rely on that technology to function, as the UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that have now incorporated our technology and are using it 24 hours, 7 days a week. The key technologies had their origin 15 years ago at this laboratory and are just now coming to their realization. If there is a characteristic lesson we should draw of how to continue in a sustainable way to be “the lab the nation turns to first,” it’s to try to anticipate and even earlier invest and develop technology so it is ready for deployment when it is needed.
LN: Isn’t Gerry Yonas’s group [the Advanced Concepts Group] critical or pivotal in that sort of anticipatory function?
Paul: That is their job, and they have been key to helping us think through how to organize our counterterrorism work and suggest where we ought to go. I believe one of the dangers when you are so successful in serving needs is that you can rapidly deplete the feedstock of ideas and new technologies. We’ve got to give some attention to replenishing that in the future.
Joan: Just this week we had a group called the National Security Advisory Panel here, a tremendous group of folks. Their experience base and their knowledge about national security are phenomenal. During their visit we talked with them about what we have been doing in the whole area of combating terrorism. The strong message to us in the end is, yes, you are so good that we have no question that on any particular part of this problem you could work very well and contribute enormously — but you can’t do it all. And what it looked like to them was that we were in fact trying to do it all. We do have work that covers practically the full range of all of the dimensions of combating terrorism. But moving forward, anticipating two, three, or five years out, where should we focus, what should be our niches? They challenged us.
We did some quick studies over the past three months — [VP] Bob Eagan’s study looking at infrastructure and the whole issue of where do you start, and then Gerry Yonas’s study, which is looking across the whole range of where to make appropriate technology investments. Based on those two studies, which were just reported out, Mission Council met on Feb. 7 and decided to start a $3 million Grand Challenge this year, a mid-year start. It’s in the area of sensor systems.
We have asked Dave Nokes, in his new role of supporting Mission Council in combating terrorism, to pull together the folks and get this activity organized and launched. We are thinking of sensor systems and the idea of small sensors that can be up close to what you are trying to sense, sensors as a multiplier of people. Having guards and folks watching for the indicators at all possible points of the world is of course the best. But you can’t. So can you think about having sensors with enough intelligence and ability to decide and communicate that they can be out there as an amplifier of people? And have them with such high reliability that they are a first line, rather than just a piece of confirmatory information?
And that is not all. We are meeting again on the 19th to queue up another area. We are looking at the whole area of offense. Think about the challenge of what if there was another aircraft situation and as a result we had the fighters launched. What do we do? That’s a difficult situation to think through. What are the tools in the terms of the weapons. What do we have? We are thinking along those lines and others, and seeing what we might try to queue up as another Grand Challenge to launch this year.
LN: We want to ask about something Joan has already alluded to: the heavy workloads, stress levels, and pressing demands of all this work. I know you are worried about the sustainability of it and the effect on people. What message do you have for employees about that?
Paul: I will put it in most simple terms. Some advice I was once given: Life is not a dress rehearsal. We will likely only go through this once. You have to pursue happiness. One of the fundamental reasons for creating our form of government was to allow that. Our people are working so hard for great causes — and it’s important that we do respond — but we’ve got to step back and make that effort sustainable. You can’t sustain your lives, your marriages, your relations with your kids — your kids are going to keep aging and growing up. We want to make sure that every Sandian can balance work and life in the process. I believe it’s clear that everybody has been throwing themselves into the effort to try to help the country when the need was so great. We have to taper that back and get in a sustainable condition again.
LN: What about yourselves? Everyone is concerned about leadership sustainability. How do you manage personally to have a life of your own and to find that happiness? Are you able to do that yourselves?
Paul: We’re probably not the best examples of “doing as we say.” My wife allows me to be devoted to this job. And I’ve got the greatest support network along the way to help that out. But I know if I don’t find some additional time to occasionally take some time off, my ideas just aren’t as good. You turn stale. Almost everyone has their best ideas when their mind is fresh. Quite often those ideas come when you are on a vacation or while you are at home at night rather than when you are sitting at your desk. I had planned my vacation, two weeks and two days in Europe, to begin on the 13th of September. Obviously, we didn’t get to go. I have rescheduled it for this spring.
LN: Good. Joan, what about you? How do you handle this?
Joan: When you brought that up, I couldn’t help but laugh. A week or so ago my husband Jim said someone had asked him if I was in town this week, and he said, “Gee, beats me, I haven’t seen her in days.” In fact, we were only “seeing each other” asleep. But Paul is right about the need for everyone to pay attention to themselves. It’s very easy to not even realize how stressed you are. People deal with it, and their bodies take it on, in different ways. Sometimes you don’t even realize how tense and stressed you really are. But for me, my family too is a great help. We have one son at home, and he is very insistent that we do things, and he’s got a lot of interests, and so he drags us, and we go off and enjoy time together.
LN: Our hiring program has been very successful. We’ve added more than the 500 new hires that was the target. But if that’s not enough people to do the work that we have to do, what can we do?
Paul: I think we’ve got to find ways to team with a lot more organizations. That’s been a theme for how we could leverage our strengths. As Joan said, we can’t do it all. We shouldn’t do it all. But if we have the right system view, we can depend on those partnerships to extend our contributions. In responding to the war on terrorism, the relationships with Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, our sister labs in the traditional teaming of the weapons labs, have been terrific. We and Los Alamos have developed NISAC, the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center. We have teamed our individual strengths and have put together this joint program. We actually hired a key individual to lead it. We put together the candidates, decided which was the right one, and said, “Live wherever you want to live, you are representing both labs and your goal is to make this program a success.” Quite an innovation. Also, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore have been teaming well together along with Sandia in establishing sensor networks in various parts of the country. I was pleased that the government decided to allow us to discuss more an activity that had been going on under the name PROTECT, involving a number of laboratories. It focused first on getting sensors against chemical attack in the Washington Metro [subway] system. We also have deployed the technology in some airports. We will keep that moving forward in other node points that might be possible targets of attack in the future. Those are being done cooperatively. We have other sensor systems for special programs that we have deployed, with all three labs working on them. You cannot tell which individuals are from which labs, which is the way it should be.
LN: Is this a new mission, counterterrorism? I know we have had it before, but is this the new Cold War, do you think? Would you characterize it that way?
Paul: I wouldn’t say that. I think it is still more than likely to be on the margins of conflict. I hope that at least will be the case. Imagine where you were, 25 years ago, at the height of the Cold War. The potential that your life could be disrupted by conflict and that you might in fact die was enormously higher at that time than it is today. Even though we have all witnessed the recent attacks. One of our participants suggested that the goal of the terrorists is to “kill people but to make sure you have the maximum number of people looking on.” So it does strike terror, and we can all see ourselves as being in the building when it was hit or being in the aircraft that was used as a missile against the building. But the probability that such might happen to any one of us is so much lower than the probability for personal harm was before that this is still on the margins. If we do our work well we will keep it on the margins. We still must not lose sight of our principal goal and our central mission, which is to prevent war, to prevent conflict. Our nuclear weapons program will continue as the central deterrent for that.
LN: About the budget, it looks good, but how do you see the situation?
Paul: We are actually in the fifth month of the  fiscal year, and so we have been getting money in from nontraditional sponsors as well as getting the major appropriations settled out. The current year budget already rounds off to $1.7 billion! One key item, besides beginning to renew our infrastructure and the work we just discussed, is MESA. MESA was given a huge amount of capital spending in this year that will allow us to substantially begin construction on the major facilities.
LN: That’s committed pretty fully then? MESA will happen?
Paul: I always try to avoid lightning strikes. MESA is well-begun, and that bodes well for its future.
LN: Because the overall project is something like $400-plus million, right?
Joan: Yes, and the big issue with MESA is really the timing of the funding. There are different scenarios of funding. Ideally, we would like to do it in a fairly compressed schedule. That is most efficient in terms of construction as well as use of the dollar, but it could be that appropriations will end up drawing that out. As Paul says, there is always the possibility of some axe that could change the course.
Paul: There is another area that people may not have noticed, and I think all of us as Sandians should take pride in it. We have innovative people in all parts of the laboratory. Our people who provide facilities are blazing a new trail in once again building major buildings with General Plant Project funds. The first building is under construction right down the street here. The second one was just approved. We are blazing a trail for all the other labs and plants in being the first to try this process. Folks worked very hard for a long time to get us to this point, and it’s nice to see it come to fruition.
That is very important because there are still many people in the laboratory who are in poor space. Some of the best work is still being done in poor space and this gives us a bigger chance to try and control that against the long planning horizon for other capital facilities, like MESA, which we’ve been planning for many years. This allows us to trade off some of the funds we have, and indeed it’s been control over our indirect costs that has been freeing up the money. We now get to apply these funds to ease the space crunch.
LN: On the budget, does this $1.7 billion for this year reflect growth — beyond the infrastructure investment — in weapons program spending this year, or does it reflect a lot of new dollars coming in to other areas?
Paul: I believe the weapons program is up about 13 percent.
Joan: That’s the total, including construction — a chunk of that [in the weapons program] is for construction for this year in the weapons program. But the other business units, both emerging threats and nonproliferation, are also up. In the current-year budget, the emerging threats area is up
7 percent, nonproliferation is up 9 percent.
LN: What about the ’03 budget proposal, just released?
Paul: It’s up again, as well.
Joan: The problem is we don’t have a real good handle on where that is. It’s up again. Both emerging threats and nonproliferation — $20-50 million. Nuclear weapons up about $100 million. Mission Council is getting together on the 19th [February] to look at projections.
Paul: In addition to the budget going up, one other thing I noted in preparing for the recent senators’ briefing is that 28 percent of our current budget is coming from agencies other than DOE. I think that’s a record.
Joan: Non-DOE funding for this fiscal year is estimated to be $475 million — up 15 percent.
LN: Is it fair to say — because of things like the efficiencies the Labs has gained through the effort to comply with Curtis Commission requirements — that the bang for the buck for that money is even more than the raw numbers would suggest?
Paul: We tried to ask that question — what is most important to customers? Some people do look at the rates that we charge. But the most important thing is the quality of the work we perform. Nevertheless, we must work very, very hard to ensure that when we achieve lower costs, we maintain the same or higher quality.
Joan: As a national lab we should not be focused on or drive ourselves to be the “lowest-cost provider.” That’s not the answer.
LN: What about energy?
Joan: Energy is actually down a little bit, but you have to look deeper and see the detail. We have some energy as well as environment work that is down, but also, our critical infrastructure work has come up, so there are some pluses and minuses inside of the detail. And as we look forward to [FY]03 the directed stockpile work in nuclear weapons is up again, a significant increase on the same order, 12-13 percent, and we’re projecting perhaps similar growth again in ET as well as nonproliferation.
LN: We talked earlier about the hiring program. A year or so ago you formally launched our commitment to hire 500 people a year for the next five years. But that was pre- 9/11. In the post-9/11 environment — granted that we can’t do it all — do you think we’re going to have to up the hiring intensity beyond that original goal of 500 per year?
Joan: I just sent out a letter to management giving them the hiring status and encouraging managers across the labs — who have been doing an extraordinary job of hiring folks — good folks! What I encouraged in that letter is that first and foremost, keep our eye on quality — we want to make sure we really get top people — but that we shouldn’t limit ourselves by any sort of arbitrary number. We set out for 500, but as long as we keep the focus on quality, if we have a hiring program this year similar to last year or even a little higher that that is exactly what we need to do.
LN: Let me switch gears and ask about something that every employee and every retiree is interested in, and that’s the pension plan proposed changes that everyone — including you — has been waiting to hear some word on for more than a year. What’s the status and what do you have to say about that process? [As reported in this issue, the changes were subsequently approved and announced on Feb. 13]
Paul: Let me give you some background of what an immense effort has gone into this request. I think it has been the hardest single fight we’ve ever fought as laboratory management. Joan and I, Frank Figueroa, Ralph Bonner, and Mark Biggs — the total of hours has been enormous. It’s been the best of times and the worst of times. The first people with whom we worked on the proposal were Lockheed Martin folks, who had enormous courage and gave us strong support to achieve an equitable proposal, and for that we are grateful. People have also stepped up in Albuquerque Operations to really work the issues, work with us, look at the purposes of what we were proposing, and they’ve been our strong supporters.
In DOE headquarters, it’s been a similar story, but for every supporter there, you could also find someone pushing back. It is an issue that has displayed, as much as any we’ve seen, the problem that folks in the Congress and external reviews have cited about the department: too many cooks getting into the act.
Time has flown. I certainly felt a lot younger when we started. We have had some wonderful supporters. I am still optimistic that we will get the proposal we developed, and soon.
Success will be due in no small part, not only to the hard work of Sandians and within NNSA organizations here in Albuquerque and in headquarters, but to some of our key political supporters. And unquestionably, the role of Sandians in writing to their congresswomen and senators has kept us in the fight for better pensions. And Pete Domenici’s efforts have been key in all of this. It’s just been an extraordinary effort. Jeff Bingaman has been there pushing on various corners. Heather Wilson and Ellen Tauscher both have made direct calls. Heather has seen and talked to John Gordon many times about the issue. And in our success, we had better find a way to thank those folks, because the successful outcome indeed has had many fathers and mothers.
LN: What about the governance issue, or what was for a brief time called self-governance, that’s under way. Many people are involved. What does the governance pilot, the NNSA efficiency initiative really mean for Sandians? Is it going to result in greater efficiencies — less red tape and paperwork?
Paul: Let’s start with how we got into it. NNSA, knowing they must rejuvenate and prove themselves as a department to get away from the bureaucracy that was associated with past ways of doing business, asked for suggestions. We came forward with a proposal that Joan presented first to [NNSA Administrator] Gen. [John] Gordon at a luncheon meeting. We said the right way to move ahead and to have our people not be so encumbered with red tape would be to change the governance from a compliance-based mentality, with so many orders and guidelines, to a system that could start to get more thoughtfulness, more best-industry practices into being. This is one of those things that won’t come for free. To have less oversight exerted by the bureaucracy, with fewer inspections, will require us to do a better job of managing ourselves, of looking hard at our safety, taking proactive steps ourselves so we don’t have to have others come in afterwards and look over our shoulders. The governance pilot is designed to put more of the management for all of these activities into the line organization’s responsibilities.
Joan: From the beginning, I’ve been trying to caution people against using the words “self-governance.” That’s really not an accurate term. Even a small business owned by those who run the company has someone they must provide some assurance to — whether it is the bank that they’ve borrowed money from or whatever. From the very beginning, we put forward the notion that this model will have to have in it not only the business rules and the policies and processes, but it also has to have in it an assurance model. There has to be a mechanism by which the combination of self-assessments and assessments by true peers provide valuable insight and guidance and critiques. That needs to be a key part of the model.
It’s very exciting to see the work that is going on. We have functional area teams in 17 different areas, folks from the Albuquerque office of NNSA as well as Sandia working together.
They are looking at governance from the standpoint of a “clean piece of paper,” asking what should a research lab’s governance look like. And then sitting down with the NNSA folks and seeing where we have agreements, where we have gaps, and then moving forward in each of those areas with the goal of having the basic design in place for a decision and modifications to what orders apply to us. And all that by the end of April.
You asked about an example of governance affecting folks individually. Right now the way the orders and rules are set up, if I as an individual want to get my dosimetry record, the approval has to come from DOE. This is driven by the application of the Privacy Act to Sandia. Are we a federal institution or are we a private institution? Folks who have been working in the information systems functional area have identified some similar issues where the way the rules are being applied to Sandia affects our ability to get those individual records. That was a very specific example, but let me emphasize that the real effect is in productivity. Everywhere in the lab we will see increased productivity that is measurable!
Paul: There’s a fundamental principle that the governance initiative rests on. It is one of the most important lessons we’ve learned in the past dozen years — the lesson of Total Quality. The way to improve the quality of any operation is by building the quality in by the people performing the work, not inspecting out the defects and problems later. The whole governance proposal is based on that approach. Every Sandian will eventually be brought into it or it can’t succeed. The people who can best improve the quality are the people who do the work, and the farther you move away from that, the less likely you are to add substantially to it. It really is a different way for us to operate.
Joan: One of our advisers, a very wise individual who has worked in a lot of different parts of the federal system, made a point to us recently that he’s tried to convey to folks in Washington. It is the idea that if you have an organization made up of smart, very capable people, but you give them very prescriptive direction on how to do things, then you actually increase rather than decrease the risk. Those rules are given to us not because people want to make our lives difficult but because, in fact, folks in NNSA feel like there’s a real need to manage with a lot of rigor the risks that are inherent in the operation of this organization.
But if you do that, then you have the danger of people just following those rules somewhat mindlessly — checking it off: I’ve done 1; I’ve done 2; and not really thinking about what it is they are doing, what are the risks, what do they need to be looking out for. If, instead, you give them more of a framework about how one should be thinking about risks — what should be the goals, what are the measures? get folks engaged in thinking about “How do I manage the risks in my job day to day?” — then you really, in fact, reduce the risk substantially.
Paul: I would like to emphasize to everyone how crucial it is that we succeed in this. We’ve been placed in a very special position. We are the pilot, not just for three labs, the NNSA labs, but for all of NNSA. And separately, [DOE Under Secretary] Bob Card, who is in a parallel position for other parts of DOE as John Gordon is for us, is also following closely what we’re doing and has suggested he would like to consider that as a model for all of DOE.
We have had a great opportunity given to us by the creation of NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency within DOE. They have placed the governance method as the must-succeed reformation activity for this agency. So we think that while it’s crucial to streamline our own work, more importantly, so many others are watching to see whether it can succeed and subsequently be picked up for their operations, labs, and plants.
In that respect, this is the best chance we’ve had for something we’ve all talked about for at least 10 years: the rejuvenation of the GOCO model. The “government-owned, contractor-operated” model surely fell on bad times over the 58 or 59 years that it’s been in operation. It needed to be taken out, looked at, dusted off, and streamlined. This is the first and maybe the best chance we’ll have to do that, to be sure that this model of bringing the best of private-sector methods to the government can continue to succeed.
Concerns and accountabilities
LN: Is there any possible downside at the individual level? Some people have expressed a concern whether it’s going to result in a tougher, meaner kind of management style at the individual employee level. Is that a consequence or not?
Joan: I suspect that is coming from the idea that in this model we’re really going to have to take seriously responsibility and accountabilities throughout the organization. I actually view that in a very energizing way. I can see people thinking what you described, given what we’ve seen in past years. When something went wrong there were a lot of punitive measures from the department onto organizations and operations. But on the other hand, if we’re able to set this up in a way so that by taking full responsibility and accountability you have the ability to make the decisions — make them from the perspective of optimizing the system rather than having the decisions go all the way through a process of checkers and reviewers — that will be tremendously energizing.
In the last 10 years we have gone down a road — and this is a collective “we,” that is, DOE and the contractors in the M&O positions — where the use of fee as a motivator has been espoused as a key element of the whole system. This view perceives that if you hold the contractor’s fee at risk in some way, then you motivate the laboratory. We have been trying to get people, especially in Washington, to understand — I think many have listened –that is not a motivator for the laboratory. The laboratory is motivated by the pride and excellence of operation and excellence of being able to deliver to the mission. And the bottom line of the governance model is being able to deliver to the mission in a better way.
Paul: The only people who should fear operations under the new governance approach are those who fear taking responsibility for what they do, as opposed to having someone direct them at every step what to do. I can’t imagine any Sandian would fall into that category.
LN: Politically, though, isn’t there some point at which the public, or the public through their elected proxies, wants to have somebody’s head on the block that they can hold accountable? Doesn’t that [demand for accountability] eventually evolve back into some huge structure that makes sure you cover everybody?
Paul: I think you’re looking at two of the heads that are on the block. It’s unfortunate but true that the more bureaucracy grew within DOE and the more people felt they should give directions and tasking to us, the harder it became to find the line of accountability and responsibility. When everybody is accountable, no one is accountable. We said we’re willing to step up for the right to be able to determine what our work methods are, what procedures we’ll use, what oversight functions we believe will be the most effective. We have just completed a very interesting meeting of the Sandia Board of Directors, which is a very powerful body of individuals. We let them reflect on the full horizons of what the accountability would mean to them as an operating Board, and they certainly stepped up to say they’re ready to take it on and assure the performance.
LN: Joan, you’ve championed for years now the effort to make sure that this is a great place to work. We have many new employees in the past year or so. Where do you think that effort stands and where do you think we stack up on this as a great place to work?
Joan: I was just on the phone this morning with representatives from a group of other laboratories. One of the labs had just completed an employee survey, a broad survey. And they were preparing to go off for a two-day retreat to take a look at the feedback. The things they were queuing up were the 9/80 workweek and communication of a compensation system rationale that had a clearer linkage between performance and the value of contribution and pay. I couldn’t help but think that while we are very critical of ourselves on this front — I think that’s a good thing, that’s healthy — we also should reflect periodically that we have an awful lot of good going for us.
The challenges of mentoring a large number of new folks coming into the Labs are going to be big. The difference between today and the last time we did a lot of hiring, especially people right off of campus, is that today a lot of our projects are wound a lot tighter. What I mean by that is that the funding is really sliced in a way that people are always looking for how to stretch and get more for the dollar, and getting that little bit of extra flexibility is harder. A more senior person should spend some time with the new folks coming in and give them advice about their project or some coaching. That’s going to be a big challenge. So as I look forward, we need to continue to look at mentoring and the way we support and bring people in so that they can understand what a lab is, build up connections, and be productive. We must help them to feel a part of this institution.
LN: We are a unique institution, our being a weapons lab. Our new hires are coming from universities. How do you make that connection to new people?
Joan: I think we are relearning how to do that.
Paul: One of the positive outcomes of Sept. 11 was that kids in the schools all realized they don’t want just to go out and earn a paycheck. The bursting of the bubble of the dot.coms has also put a damper on their going out to get rich on stock options from startup companies. Today, more people realize their country needs them and their talents, and they want to find a way to work for the country. Sandia is the prototype of that. I have talked with a number of new folks who’ve come on board, and it’s delightful to hear that that’s what is driving them, and they are working hard. It’s up to us to make sure that we work on our own processes to reduce the bureaucracy so that when people have new ideas we quickly get them into the marketplace for new ideas, find the best ones, and promptly move to make them happen.
I do have to say that as we look at the set of “total rewards” to employees — which [VP] Don Blanton and his folks have communicated — the one area that was a glaring deficiency for us was the pension benefit. That’s why we started to work four years ago, but only got an emergency relief for older retirees. You may recall a greatly skewed matrix showing that those folks who had been retired a long time had seen their pensions hit by heavy inflation that wasn’t responded to — only periodically and not fully. Our actions two years ago did give them some significant relief. Yet, I considered that an emergency action only. We still weren’t helping the rank-and-file Sandians still working and those recently retired, and that’s what our recent efforts have been, to try to bring that up to parity.
Paul: I would love to be able to mention some of the things that I believe are happening to make Sandia more effective. I would put forward our computer networks, which we started a decade ago to really hit hard. The creation of the CIO [chief information officer organization], the movement toward web-based everything, and the extensive e-mail system — these were significant. This year we saw a very significant step in the creation of classified e-mail and a classified web. Those are big steps for this laboratory. We also, working with our sister labs Los Alamos and Livermore, just opened up a network for design information that enables us to network complex designs between labs. I have to believe this new network is a prototype for where the World Wide Web will be 10 to 15 years from now. We are using it today for our mission work. It’s a big step to make everybody’s effectiveness go up, and their power as individual workers has increased.
LN: On Jan. 31 your counterpart at Los Alamos National Labs, John Browne, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington. In answer to questions, he said he felt he was right in firing Wen Ho Lee and in fact he said of Lee’s actions, “They are the most serious violations of security I’ve seen in 30 years.” Yet the government’s case collapsed, Lee has gained a lot of sympathy, and now he’s written a book. I think most people in the public don’t know what to think about all this. What has been learned from all this, and what’s your position today?
Paul: I was very pleased that John stepped forward. I was drawn into that case on behalf of the Defense Department to assess the damage and the potential damage from the secrets that were downloaded. I did thumb through Lee’s book and found some of the material bizarre. It seems clear, and is repeated often in the book that he was aware he was downloading classified information and not caring for it by any of the procedures that are mandated.
In the Lee case the public has never seen the data or had a full hearing of the evidence. The Lee prosecution displayed problems that I don’t think our infrastructure was ready to take on. How do you allow debate about matters of such high security importance without revealing them openly to the public? That was perhaps Wen Ho Lee’s attorney’s greatest weapon. It appeared that there was going to have to be a compromise or a plea bargain. The eventual felony conviction was acceptable to those investigators in the FBI who evidently had no direct evidence of espionage to present in court. But such behavior and lax care of the nation’s greatest secrets is not something anyone should say is OK to do. That became the most important lesson and outcome for the future.
Joan: I think one thing that came from all this is that management at all levels is much more aware of making sure they have information about what’s going on in their organization so they can make decisions. I’ll give you an example. If somebody has a problem passing a polygraph or there is some negative information about someone’s activities, previously there has been difficulty — due to stovepipes, whether security or counterintelligence personnel inside or outside the labs had such information, it was not shared with that person’s manager. Now I think management is stepping back up to the accountability and responsibility. They know where the responsibility lies and are making sure that they get access to that kind of information — not to take actions with regard to guilt, but to make sure that prudent actions are taken to not create any kind of national security risk. That’s another key learning from this whole experience.
Paul: I think that if the counterintelligence programs, which all three laboratories have now increased in scope, had been in place earlier, they would have played a major role in triggering investigations earlier rather than so many years after the fact. I think the Lee case made it painfully clear that the downloaded information [at Los Alamos] was outside classified protection for so long. It was heartbreaking. I still remember the day I was first briefed on what had taken place, and it was something almost too shocking to believe.
LN: We talked to you last year about this and you gave us a sense of the scope of the compromise. It was vast. Are you still confident that your assessment was accurate?
Paul: I wouldn’t change a word of my testimony.
LN: The University of Texas has announced it wants to compete for any open bid for management of Sandia, and now the University of New Mexico is at least talking about wanting to do something. Lockheed Martin wants to retain its situation as manager. Is this anything that should concern Sandians and do you have any advice about it one way or another?
Paul: It’s been a concern to us, and I suspect we all have our preferences. Unfortunately, we are not the decision makers on any of these issues. There is a decision that first must be made and that is whether to extend or to compete [the contract]. I try not to pay a whole lot of attention to those who are talking about competition until that first decision is made. Joan and I were both here when AT&T decided to step down, and it was a difficult two years getting used to a new parent organization. It took some incubation time. But the laboratory made the transition, and indeed with that “exceptional service” ethic, everybody continued to do well. We are both very confident that the Labs will succeed with whatever decision is made. We’ve also heard from lots of other organizations that stood up [during the last bidding]. You may recall the bidders’ conference in 1992, there were 70 organizations that attended. I would suspect there are just as many who would step forward today. It’s not the time to ask those questions. It’s the cart before the horse. We’ll let NNSA look at our performance, look at the legislative prescriptions, and make their decision [on renewal or bid] first.
LN: You were chosen as president in August 1995. It’s been an eventful six-and-a-half years. Many Sandians hope you will continue to head the organization for some time to come. What are your intentions in that regard?
Paul: Thank you. I must say the time has flown by a lot faster than I noticed. So I must be having fun. I have the best job in the country. I told that to Tom Ridge — that this really is the best job. There are some things we’ve been trying to do that we set as long-term goals. We polished our articulation of that with the joint training we did with Jerry Porras, co-author of the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. How can we build the best science and engineering laboratory that will not only last for 100 years but will make the maximum of employee contributions to the nation? I’m still having fun in watching some things improve, and there’s probably no one who is more proud of the outputs people make. In my introduction to this year’s Lab News Labs Accomplishments list, I suggested that everyone should ask themselves, “Is this the best it’s ever been?” It certainly seems that way to me. On the other hand, I still feel we are a long way from fulfilling our potential as a premier laboratory, so there are plenty of challenges in this job.
LN: Is there anything else you want to make sure gets said?
Paul: We didn’t talk much about the rejuvenation of the weapons program. I think we ought to do that. Last year we may have been at the nadir of our worries that the Laboratory had not designed and integrated a complex weapons system — with its 6,000-plus parts — in more than a decade. Did we still have that ability? If you have not exercised it, how can you be sure you still have it? It has not been easy to pull this ephemeral part of the program back into being. But Tom Hunter and all the folks in the Weapons Program are to be congratulated. Sandia’s weapons work has really come on, and strong. We redesigned the AF&F [arming, fuzing, and firing system] for the W-76 Trident. We have begun to understand the workload that is yet to come in other systems. We’ve taken them through their approvals with the Nuclear Weapons Council, the body that enjoins the Department of Defense to NNSA.
We have made significant progress in science-based stockpile stewardship — being able to meet some of the needs for tests and evaluation without having to invoke an underground test. We certified the design for a new neutron generator, and we are now producing those neutron generators with a production performance that rivals and may even surpass, the best that was ever done before. The fears that we were losing essential capabilities in the Weapons Program have been in large measure blunted. We aren’t all the way there. We still have a huge workload facing us in the stockpile life extensions of the entire arsenal. But well-started is sometime a good assurance of outcome.
Joan: That rejuvenation has taken place with requirements that are extraordinarily challenging. The W-76 AF&F is a good example. Dr. Barry Hannah of the Navy set the challenge of achieving the design and production with a 75 percent cost reduction. He was here earlier this week with the Strategic Systems Program working group, which involves contractors and folks from throughout the Navy strategic systems. He announced with some genuine praise to Sandia that we had achieved that goal, we have decreased production costs to lower than 25 percent. So we achieved the 75 percent-plus overall reduction in costs, which is just phenomenal. Just imagine trying to do that.
LN: Do you think that’s a new baseline target?
Joan: I’m sure that John Stichman’s folks are hoping so. But as Barry tried to convey, this is the world and the climate where you have to do more with less. We really need to embrace huge challenges. This causes us to think about doing business in a whole different way, which is really a piece of what we are trying to do in the governance pilot.
Joan: The one thing I wanted to add that we hadn’t covered was the Integrated Enabling Services initiative and the effort [VP 7000] Lynn Jones is leading. That is a tremendous effort in its own right. Though it is a part of governance, and we see governance moving forward, IES just by itself is going to do so much in terms of enabling mission work. For example, when we start up something like this new Grand Challenge I talked about earlier, we’re going to have an IES individual as part of that team from the very beginning. That way what they need in terms of space or new facilities or modifications or getting matrixed folks and the team together — all that will be worked as an integrated piece of the project to make sure we enable the work in the most rapid timeframe that we possibly can.
Paul: A key to me in that is the classic tension between direct work and indirect or supporting work. Those tensions have always been around. That’s part of what we would like to become as a laboratory — so that each side of that view can’t wait to be able to call on the help of the other side and to work with them because it’s going to be so powerful in doing their own work. Everyone in direct programs will know and look forward to being able to call on any part of support because they know those folks can do it far better and faster than could ever be done by any other means. They will know that as soon as they communicate to our support folks what is needed, it will happen. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. I think major gains will come from the integration of direct and support parts of the laboratory.
LN: It’s not one at the expense of the other?
Paul: Never. Because we won’t succeed if either is weak.